Yoruba Proverbs

Below you will find our collection of inspirational, wise, and humorous old Yoruba Proverbs, Yoruba quotes, and Yoruba sayings, collected over the years from a variety of sources. Enjoy reading these insights and feel free to share this page on your social media to inspire others.

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The Yorubas have an extraordinary number of proverbial sayings, and regard a knowledge of them as a proof of great wisdom, whence the saying, “A counsellor who understands proverbs soon sets matters right.” They are in constant use, and another saying runs, “A proverb is the horse of conversation. When the conversation droops a proverb revives it. Proverbs and conversation follow each other.” Several of the proverbs given in the volume on the Ewe-speaking peoples are known to and used by the Yoruba-speaking peoples; but they have hundreds of others which appear to be peculiar to themselves, and from these the following are taken as examples:

Carved ceremonial ivory containers from the Yoruba polity of Owo, which flourished 1400–1600

Carved ceremonial ivory containers from the Yoruba polity of Owo, which flourished 1400–1600

  1. Secrets should never be told to a tattler.
  2. What is not wished to be known is done in secret.
  3. He who has done something in secret, and sees people talking together, thinks they are talking of his action.
  4. A whisperer looks suspiciously at the forest when he hears a noise, but the forest does not tell tales.
  5. Rags make up a pad.
  6. Continual sweepings make a dust-heap.
  7. One here: two there: a great crowd.
  8. One here: two there: the market is filled up.

(Nos. 5 to 8 are equivalent to our “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”)

  1. Boasting is not courage.
  2. He who boasts much cannot do much.
  3. Much gesticulation does not prove courage.
  4. It is easy to cut to pieces a dead elephant.

(Nos. 9 to 12 resemble our “Deeds, not words.”)

  1. “1 nearly killed the bird.” No one can cat nearly in a stew.
    (Answers to “Catch your hare before you cook him.”)
  2. A hog that has wallowed in the mud seeks a clean person to rub against.
  3. A man in a white cloth is never looked for in the palm-oil market.
    (Is something akin to “You cannot touch pitch without behig defiled.”)
  4. The cross-roads do not fear sacrifices.
  5. The sieve never sifts meal by itself.
  6. Disobedience will drink water with his hands tied up.
  7. Disobedience is the father of insolence.
  8. Calamity has no voice; suffering cannot speak to tell who is really in distress.
  9. He who owns the inner square of the house is the master of the outer.
  10. Peace is the father of friendship.
  11. Strife never begets a gentle child.
  12. He who forgives ends the quarrel.
  13. A sharp word is as tough as a bow-string. A sharp word cannot be cured, but a wound may.
  14. A peacemaker often receives blows.
  15. There is no medicine against old age.
  16. The afomo (a parasitical plant) has no roots; it claims relationship with every tree.
  17. A man with a cough can never conceal himself.
  18. Full-belly child says to hungry-belly child, “Keep good heart.”
  19. A jealous woman has no flesh upon her breast, for however much she may feed upon jealousy, she will never be satisfied.
  20. Houses that are not adjacent do not readily catch fire.
  21. Do not attempt what you cannot bring to a good end.
  22. Each coloured cloth has its name.
  23. He who marries a beauty marries trouble.
  24. A man of the town knows nothing about farming, or the seasons for planting, yet the yam he buys must always be large.
  25. A witch kills but never inherits.
  26. Unless the tree falls you will never be able to reach the branches.
  27. Another’s eye is not like one’s own.
  28. The bite of the sand-fly is not so bad as poverty.
  29. Poverty destroys a man’s reputation.
  30. A poor man has no relations.
  31. Poverty never visits a poor man without visiting his children also.
  32. The white man is the father of merchants, and want of money is the father of disgrace.
  33. A man may be born to a fortune, but wisdom only comes with length of days.
  34. People think that the poor are not so wise as the rich, for if a man be wise, why is he poor?
  35. The appearance of the wise differs from that of the fool.
  36. The labourer is always in the sun, the plantation-owner always in the shade.
    (Answers to “One sows, another reaps.”)
  37. A lazy man looks for light employment.
  38. Laziness lends assistance to fatigue.
  39. The potsherd goes in front of the man who has taken embers on it from the fire.
    (Means that every enterprise requires a leader.)
  40. The partridge says: “What business has the farmer to bring his cloth here?”
    (fearing it may be a bird-trap). The farmer says: “How could I go to my farm without my cloth? ”
    (This means that there are two sides to every question.)
  41. Ear, hear the other before you decide.
  42. He who annoys another only teaches him to streno, then himself.
  43. He who waits for a chance will have to wait for a year.
  44. When the jackal dies the fowls do not mourn, for the jackal never brings up a chicken.
  45. When fire burns in the bush, smuts fly into the town.
    (Answers to “Evil communication corrupts good manners.”)
  46. Tale-bearing is the older brother, vexation the younger.
  47. He who knows a matter beforehand confuses the liar.
  48. Time may be very long but a lie will not go to forgetfulness.
  49. A lie costs nothing to a liar.
  50. A man walks calmly in the presence of his defamer; -a man walks proudly in the presence of his slanderer, when he knows that the slanderer has only twenty cowries in his house.
  51. To be trodden upon here, to be trodden upon there, is the fate of the palm-kernel lying in the, road.
  52. The sole of the foot is exposed to all the dirt of the road.
  53. He who eats akashu does not know that a famine prevails.
    (Akashu is a large ball of agidi, and hence emblematic of plenty.)
  54. Consideration is the senior, calculation the junior, and wisdom the third-born.
  55. Want of consideration and forethought made six brothers pawn themselves for six dollars.
    (Instead of one brother pawning himself for the whole amount, in which case the others would be free to work and earn money with which to redeem him.)
  56. An obstinate man soon falls into disgrace.
  57. Inquiry saves a man from making mistakes. He who makes no inquiry gets himself into trouble.
  58. Though a man may miss other things, he never misses his mouth.
  59. Not to aid one in distress is to kill him in your heart.
  60. Charity is the father of sacrifice.
  61. Covetousness is the father of disease.
  62. Never did our fathers honour an orisha of this kind.
    (Is used to discountenance innovations.)
  63. A white cloth and a stain never agree.
  64. Thorns do not agree with the foot.
  65. The stream may dry up, but the watercourse still keeps its name.
  66. When water is poured on the head it finds its way down to the feet.
  67. A gift is a gift, and a purchase is a purchase; so no one will thank you for saying “I sold it You very cheap.”
  68. Hawks go away for the nesting-season, and fools think they have gone away for ever.
  69. Ashes fly back in the face of him who throws them.
    (Is equivalent to our “Curses come home to roost.”)
  70. It is the path of the needle that the thread is accustomed to follow.
  71. If a matter be dark, dive to the bottom.
  72. He who is pierced with a thorn must limp off to him who has a knife.
  73. Every man’s character is good in his own eyes.
    (This resembles “Self-praise is no recommendation.”)
  74. Wherever a man goes to dwell, his character goes with him.
  75. 87. Frogs’ spawn does not attract the attention of the robber.
    (Frogs’ spawn is supposed to resemble a mass of beads.)
  76. The white ant may well admire the bird, for it loses its wings only after only one day.
  77. Gently! gently! still hurts the snail.
  78. A bribe blinds the judge’s eyes, for bribes never speak the truth.
  79. A witness speaks the truth; a witness is not a partisan.
  80. Iwo is the home of the grey parrot, Ibara the home of the hawk, but where is the home of the green parrot?
    (Is used to persons making false pretences.)
  81. Bank rises after bank, and ditch follows after ditch. When the rain falls into the ditch the banks are envious. (Is said of those who are dissatisfied with their station in life.)
  82. The strength of a mortar (made of wood) is not like the strength of a pot (made of clay). Place a mortar on the fire and it will burn; pound a yam in a pot and it will break.
    (Means that there is a proper use for everything.)
  83. When the monkey jumps from the tree he jumps into the house.
    (Inculcates the danger of leaving one’s proper station.)
  84. A tick having fixed itself on the mouth of a jackal, a fowl was asked to take it off; but the fowl knew that she was food for the jackal just as the tick was for her.
  85. Gossip is unbecoming in an elder.
  86. 98. Three elders cannot all fail to pronounce the word ekulu; one may say ekúlu, another ekulú, but tho third will say ekulu.
    (Ekulu is the name of antelope. The saying means that there is safety in a number of counsellors.)
  87. The younger should not thrust himself into the seat of the elders.
  88. The young cannot teach the elders traditions.
  89. As a calabash receives the sediment of the water, so inust in elder exercise forbearance.
  90. A man does not run among thorns for nothing. Either he is pursuing a snake or a snake is pursuing him.
  91. As no subject may keep a herald, so it is not every man who may own a palace.
  92. Everyone in the assembly has a name, but when you are summoned “in the name of the assembly”
    (instead of in the name of some individual in it) evil awaits you.
  93. A near neighbour need not say good-bye till to-morrow.
  94. A thing thrown forward will surely be overtaken, and a thing put in the ground will be there to be dug up; but if nothing has been thrown forward, what shall be overtaken? and if nothing has been buried, what shall be dug up?
    (Is used to inculcate provident habits.)
  95. The name given to a child becomes natural to it.
  96. Gold should be sold to him who knows its value.
  97. Time is longer than a rope.
  98. The dawn does not come twice to wake a man.
  99. If clothes remain long in the bag they rot.
  100. The agbi (a bird with blue plumage) is the dyer in blue; the aluko (a bird with purple plumage) is the painter of purple; but the lekileki (the white crane) is the owner of the white cloth.
    (Means each to his own pursuits.)
  101. When the rain fell upon the parrot the aluko rejoiced, thinking that the red tail of the parrot would be spoiled, but the rain only increased its brilliancy.
  102. The akala (vulture) smells the carrion, no matter how high in the air he may be.
  103. The bat hangs with his head down, watching the actions of the birds.
    (Is used to inculcate silent observation.)
  104. He that has copper ornaments looks after the lime; he that has brass ornaments looks after the awedi.
    (The lime is used for cleaning copper and the awedi for cleaning brass.)
  105. Though the dengi is cold on the top, yet the inside is very hot.
    (Dengi is a kind of gruel made of pounded maize. The proverb means “Do not judge by appearances.”)
  106. A small bed will not hold two persons.
  107. The elephant makes a dust and the buffalo makes a dust, but the dust of the buffalo is lost in that of the elephant.
  108. Though you appear very sharp you cannot tell nine times nine.
  109. A large morsel chokes a child.
  110. He who cannot lift an ant, and yet tries to lift an elephant, will find out his folly.
  111. He who tries to shake the trunk of a tree only shakes himself.
  112. The world is the ocean and mankind is the lagoon. However well a man can swim he cannot cross the world.

(Nos. 119 to 124 are used to check presumption and over-confidence.)

  1. When the eya (a wild cat) has reached to the ferocity of the leopard he will kill animals to feed on.
  2. Though the fire is burning the walls do not shrink from it, and yet the fire is trying to burn the water.
    (Is said of persons who aim at the greater when they cannot accomplish the less.)
  3. The cry of the bird kegio does not reach the sky.
    (Is used of one whose opinion or advice is not valued.)
  4. Cocoa-nut is not good for a bird to eat.
    (This is used in the same way as our “Sour grapes.”)
  5. The bill-hook cuts the bush, but receives no profit from the bush. It clears the road, but receives no profit from the road. The bill-hook is badly bent, the bill-hook is badly bent. The billhook is bent; it pays five cowries to bind its neck (handle) with a ring. When the bill-hook reaches its owner’s farm with the ring on its neck, it is girded tightly for new works.
    (This saying refers to the labour of slaves, which brings them no remuneration. In the original it forms a kind of verse. Thus:–

    Yoruba proverbs

    Yoruba proverbs

Ada shan igbo,
Ko ri ere igbo.
O ro ona,
Ko ri ere ona.
Ada da ida kuda,
Ada da ida kuda.

Ada da; o fi arun gbadi o di oko olowo.
Ada li eka oron gbadsa giri-giri.)

  1. The pot-lid is always badly off, for the pot gets all the sweet and the lid nothing but the steam.
    (“Pot-lid” is here used to mean “slave.”)
  2. Job-work is not the slave’s first care; the master’s work has the first claim on his time.
  3. A slave is not the child of a tree (i.e., made of wood). When a slave dies his mother hears nothing of it, but when a free man dies there is mourning; yet the slave, too, was once a child in his mother’s house.
  4. As the yam-flour was once a soft unripe yam, so was the slave once a child in his father’s house.
  5. Birth does not differ from birth; as the free man was born so was the slave.
  6. You find a hen in the market and hasten to buy her. Had she been worth keeping the owner would not have sold her.
    (This is said in warning to any man who is about to buy a female slave.)
  7. He who gathers locust-fruit spends the money of death.
    (Is used to check rashness. The wood of the locust-tree breaks easily, and this proverb contemplates a man perched on a lofty limb to pick the fruit.)
  8. A hunchback is never asked to stand up straight.
    (That is, no one expects the impossible.)
  9. He who has only an eyebrow for a bow can never kill an animal.
  10. You cannot kill game by looking at it.
  11. When the hawk hovers the fowl-owner feels uneasy.
  12. No one carrying elephant-beef on his head should look for crickets underground.
    (Elephant-beef here means the food of the rich, and crickets that of the poor. The saying means tbat the rich should not stoop to petty gains.)
  13. No one should draw water from the spring in order to supply the river.
    (This means that no poor man should stint himself in order to make presents to the rich.)
  14. The glutton, having eaten his fill, then calls his companions to come also.
  15. If you are not able to build a house at once, you first build a shed.
  16. If one has not an adan (a large kind of bat), one sacrifices an ode (small bat).

(Nos. 144 and 145 mean “Do your best.”)

  1. If one is carrying water, and it gets spilt, so long as the calabash is not broken one can still get more.
    (Is used to encourage those who think a disaster irreparable.)
  2. No snuff-seller likes to own that she sells bad tobacco, but all profess to sell tobacco as sweet as honey.
    (“No one cries stinking fish.”)
  3. The esuo (gazelle), claiming relationship with the ekulu (a large antelope), says his mother was the daughter of an ekulu.
  4. If you abuse the etu, you make the head of the awo ache.
    (The etu and the awo are two varieties of guinea-fowl. The proverb means that people do not like to hear their relations badly spoken of.)
  5. He runs away from the sword and hides himself in the scabbard.
    This answers to our “Out of the frying-pan into the fire,” as the sword will return to the scabbard.)
  6. The sword shows no respect for its maker.
  7. The spoon, seeing death, ventures his head into it.
    (That is, into the boiling fluid. The proverb is used to check rashness.)
  8. After the agbeji has saved men from starving, it is thought only fit to be cut into a common calabash.
    (The agbeji is a kind of calabash-gourd, which ripens early in the season, when vegetables are scarce. When over-ripe it is bitter to the taste. The saying is used to reprove ingratitude.)
  9. The agbeji is never bitter in a large family.
    (This resembles “Hunger is the best sauce.”)
  10. Leprosy, desiring to disfigure a man, attacks the tip of his nose.
    (Said of one who tells the faults of another in public.)
  11. The first-born is due to the sheep-owner.
    (This answers to “Give to each one his due.” It refers to a custom by which, when ewes are put in charge of a shepherd, he receives in payment a certain proportion of the young, after the first-born.)
  12. Contraction of words conceals the sense.
    (The Yorabas talk habitually with great rapidity, contracting words, and often not giving themselves time to think of the proper word to use. Hence, the meaning of what they say is very often obscure, and their convenation is in consequence continually interrupted by the question”Ogbo?” “Do you understand?” literally,”Do you hear?”)
  13. When the face is washed you finish at the chin.
    (This is a saying used when a dispute is ended. It means, “Well, that’s settled.”)
  14. No one should ask the fish what takes place on the land, nor should the rat be asked what takes place in the water.
  15. A large cook does not allow a small one to crow.
  16. A rock is the father of stones.
  17. Two rams cannot drink out of the same calabash.
  18. No one will throw away antelope-venison to pick up squirrel-meat.
  19. When the spider intends to attack you it encircles you with its web.
  20. The deaf look with surprise at a speaker’s mouth.
  21. Although you are about to die, need you split up the mortar for firewood?
    (Means, have some consideration for others.)
  22. “To-day I am going; to-morrow I am going,” gives the stranger no encouragement to plant the ahusa (a plant which bears fruit very rapidly).
  23. What good have the gods done to the hunchback that he should name his child Orishagbemi (the gods have blessed me)?
    (This means, why should one return thanks when unkindness only has been experienced?)
  24. He who does not understand the cry of the palm-bird (ega) complains of the noise it makes.
    (Means that people are prone to contemn [sic] what they do not understand.)
  25. A large cock, crowing in the middle of the night, settles the dispute (as to what the time is).
  26. A lame man said the load on his head was not properly balanced, and was told “Its unevenness began from the ground” (i.e., from his lame leg).
    (This is used to reprove those who find fault when the fault really lies with them.)
  27. When the bush is on fire the pigeon leaves the grass; when the fire is extinguished everyone returns home.
  28. The akpena says to the cotton, “Do not hang your trouble round my neck.”,
    (The akpena is a kind of spindle, on which spun cotton is wound for sale. The proverb is used to one who is involving another in a difficulty.)
  29. The aro does not bear its load for ever; sooner or later it will put it down.
    (The aro is the hearth, or fire-place, consisting of three rounded cones of clay, between which the fire is lighted, and on which the cooking-pot rests. The proverb means, “Sooner or later matters must mend.”)
  30. Self-conceit deprives the wasp of honey.
  31. He who begs with importunity will obtain what he wants.
  32. The pond stands aside, as if it were not related to the river.
    (Is used to reprove pride.)
  33. The ago (a striped rat noted for its cunning) is caught in a trap, how much more then the malaju (a water-rat remarkable for its stupidity).
  34. The ajao (flying-fox) is neither rat nor bird.
    (Is used of a person who remains neutral during a quarrel.)
  35. When a Mohammedan is not pinched with hunger he says, “I never eat monkey.”
  36. The rat has no voice to call the eat to account.
  37. When the man on the stilts falls, another hand gets possession of the sticks.
  38. One man makes bill-hooks and others use them.
  39. If you send no one to the market the market will send no one to you.
  40. There is no tallness among pigeons; they are all dwarfs.
  41. No one would expose fowls on the top of a rock in sight of a hawk.
  42. The rat does not show his companion the hole in the roof.
    (Each one for himself.)
  43. You cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.
    (This means that a matter cannot be settled in the absence of the people concerned.)
  44. A bald-headed man does not care for a razor.
  45. A mouth not keeping shut, and lips not keeping close, bring trouble to the jaws.
    (Answers to our “Speech is silver, bat silence is gold.”)
  46. With the forefinger one takes up the sauce.
  47. A chicken having been delivered from death (i.e., from the hawk) by being shut up, complained because it was not allowed to feed openly on the dust-heap.
  48. The dog that is known to be very swift is the one chosen to catch the hare.
  49. If the dog has his master behind him he will not be afraid of the baboon.
  50. An old dog cannot be taught.
  51. The butcher pays no regard to any particular breed of animals.
    (That is, “All it; fish that comes to his net.”)
  52. A rogue never closes the mouth of his wallet.
  53. The birdlime is the death of the bird.
  54. When the shin-bone is not hurt, it says it has no flesh to protect it.
    (This means, “You do not know what you can do till you try.”)
  55. Working in competition quickens the hands.
  56. The coloured calico deceives the country-cloth, but it is not really what the country-cloth takes it to be, for the thread is fine.
    (Country-cloth, that is, native-made cotton-cloth, is only dyed to disguise its coarseness, and it is here represented as imagining that coloured calico is coloured for the same reason. The proverb means that first impressions are often erroneous.)
  57. He who goes into a river, may fear, but the river does not fear.
  58. No one confesses that he has eaten yam with a knife that is missing.
  59. A fool of Ika and an idiot of Iluka meet together to make friends.
    (“Birds of a feather flock together.”)
  60. The palm of the hand deceives no one.
    (This answers to our “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”)
  61. No matter how well an idol is made, it must have something to stand on.
    (Is used like our “There is no smoke without fire.”)
  62. Though the host may be obliged to eat gbingbindo, the guest expects at least to be given a handful of corn.
    (The fruit of the gbingbindo is only eaten in time of famine. The proverb is used to check unreasonable demands.)
  63. When a fish is killed its tail is put in its mouth.
    (Is said of those who reap, the fruit of their own misdeeds.)
  64. Thanks are due to the shoulders which keep the shirt from slipping off.
  65. As one is walking, so is he met.
  66. The monkey is sure to tear the cloth of anyone who resembles himself.
  67. An accident is not like a result that is foreseen.
  68. One lock does not know the wards of another.
  69. If the stomach is not strong, do not eat cockroaches.
  70. The pangolin dwelt in a forest, not in a plain.
    (This is a mode of saying that a person is bashful.)
  71. If a man powerful in authority should ill-treat you, smile at him.
  72. He who claps hands for a fool to dance is no better than the fool.
  73. When the agbali is overpowered, there remains only the strength of the arabi to be overcome.
    (The agbali and arabi are two insects which, it is popularly believed, are always found in company.)
  74. 219. The thumb cannot point straight forward.
    (Is used when a person has been detected in some deceit.)
  75. 220. To prostrate oneself and keep the elbows close (to the side) does something for you
    (This resembles our saying about holding a candle to the devil.)
  76. 221. The trader never acknowledges that he has sold all his goods. When asked, he will only say, “Trade is a little better.”
  77. 222. Everything has a price, but who can put a price on blood?
  78. 223. Famine compels one to eat the fruit of all kinds of trees.
    (“Necessity knows no law.”)
  79. A fugitive does not stop to pick the thorns from his foot, neither does he make choice of his sauce.
  80. The ground-pig (bandicoot) said: “I do not feel so angry with the man who killed, me, as with the one who dashed me on the ground afterwards.”
    (“Insult adds to injury.”)
  81. Never take hold of a man who has a drawn knife in his hand.
  82. By labour comes wealth.
  83. A thief is more merciful than a fire.
    Odofin tells a bigger lie than Aro.
  84. Aro says he dropped his needle in the water;
    Odofin says he heard the splash of it.
  85. A knife cannot be so sharp as to sharpen its own handle.
  86. Joy has a small body.
  87. Number one always precedes number two.
  88. The horse never refuses a homeward gallop.
  89. The wife saying, “I am going to see my mother,” deceives the husband.
  90. He who waits to see a crab wink will tarry long upon the shore.
  91. The butterfly that brushes against thorns will tear its wings.
  92. If an orisha would kill a man for cooking an unpalatable soup, what would become of those who cook nothing at all?
  93. A rat that has a navel is a witch.
  94. That which a child likes never injures its stomach.
  95. Quick loving a woman means quick not loving a woman.
    (“Marry in haste and repent at leisure.”)
  96. One cannot show darkness by, pointing it out.
  97. The greater covers the less.
  98. Ropes are entangled when goats are tied to the same post.
  99. Hilts are unconscious of the strain to which the blades are subjected.
  100. We say, “Know it who can.” The knower will know.
    (“The cap fits.’)
  101. Without bad news there is no sadness of heart.
  102. The dove would not eat the ground-nuts, or the crow the white beans.
    (“One man’s food is another man’s poison,”)
  103. Health is the stepping-stone to wealth.
  104. Dada cannot fight, but he has a brave brother.
  105. As a girl is, so is her “head-money.”
    Many of the proverbial sayings run in couplets, and resemble in construction some of those found in the Hebrew Book of Proverbs, the object being to establish an antithesis between two consecutive lines, in which noun is made to answer to noun, and verb to verb. For instance, compare:–

The simple inherit folly,
But the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
(Proverbs xiv. 18).

A gracious woman retaineth honour,
And strong men retain riches.
(Proverbs xi. 16.)

with the following Yoruba aphorisms:–

1. Ordinary people are as common as grass,
But good people are dearer than the eye.

2. A matter dealt with gently is sure to prosper,
But a matter dealt with violently causes vexation.

3. Familiarity induces contempt,
But distance secures respect.

4. The public assembly belongs to the town,
But a select council belongs to the king.

5. Anger does nobody good,
But patience is the father of kindness.
Anger draws arrows from the quiver,
But good words draw kola-nuts from the bag.

6. A fruitful woman is the enemy of the barren,
And an industrious man is the foe of the lazy.

7. Beg for help, and you will meet with refusers;
Ask for alms, and you will meet with misers.

8. A wild boar in the place of a hog would ravage the town,
And a slave, made king, would spare nobody.

9. When there are no elders the town is ruined,
And when the master dies the house is desolate.

10. The absence of powder converts a gun into a stick,
And the death of a father causes the dispersion of his children.

11. The sharpness of an arrow is not like that of a razor,
And the wickedness of a horse is not like that of a man.

12. A pistol has not a bore like a cannon,
And a poor man has not money like a rich.

13. Sorrow is after weeping,
And mortification is after trouble.

14. To-day is the elder brother of to-morrow,
And a heavy dew is the elder brother of rain.

15. A ram’s mane gives him a noble appearance,
And a father’s honour makes a son proud.

16. No one can separate the agbali from the arabi,[1]
And no one can deprive a man of his inheritance,

The Yoruba-speaking peoples are fond of composing punning sentences, made up of words having similar sounds but different meanings. Thus:–

(1) Abebi ni ibe iku.

Abebi ni ibe orun.

Bi oru ba inu abebi ni ibe e.

Abebi means a fan, an advocate, or an intercessor, and the above is

An intercessor (with the gods) wards off death.
An advocate (with the judge) wards off punishment.
A fan wards off the heat when it is hot.

[1. See Proverb 218.]

(2) Igun ti ogun mi ko jo i egun. Stabbing is not like pricking me with a thorn.” The play here is in the resemblance between the words igun, ogun, and egun.

(3) Bi alapata ba pa eran, awon alagbata abu u li ajan. When the butcher kills the animal the retailers cut it into pieces.” Here the play is upon the words alalgata (butcher) and alagbata (pedlar, retailer, petty trader).

(4) The following is on the words bata (shoes), bata-bata (an onomatopœic word like our “patter patter “), apata (rock), ajulabata (chief drummer), and bata (a long drum):–

Ojo pa bata, bata-bata-bata, li ori apata; li ode ajulabata, bata ni igi, bata li awo.

“The rain on the bata (shoes), goes patter, patter, patter, as on the apata (rock); in the street of ajulabata, the bata (drum) is wood, the bata (shoes) are of hide.”

(5) Igba dodo li agbado, igba ni? “What supports the people if it is not maize?” Here the play is on igba dodo and agbado.

It is a favourite game to repeat as fast as possible sentences difficult to pronounce, like the following:–

Iyan mu ire yo; iyan ro ire ru. “When there is famine the cricket is fat” (that is, is considered good enough to eat); “when the famine is over the cricket is lean” (i.e., is rejected).

Kanakana ba kanakana ja, kanakana da kanakana. “The crow met the crow and fought, the crow beat the crow.”

The two following are examples of a play of a different sort:–

(1) The cry of the squirrel sounds like the word korokoro, whence “It was the squirrel’s own mouth that betrayed her, for when she had brought forth two young ones she carried them to the roadside and said, My children are very sound, very sound, very sound (Omo mi ije korokoro, korokoro, korokoro.)

(2) The cry of the bush-fowl (partridge) resembles the words kiki ora, “nothing but fat”; hence the saying, “With its mouth the bush-fowl declares its fatness, crying, ‘Nothing but fat! Nothing but fat.'” (Kiki-ora! Kiki-ora.)

Riddles are sufficiently common, but few of them are good. The following are examples:–

Q. A small confined room, with hardly anything in it but pegs.
A. The mouth, with the teeth.

Q. An associate who cannot be tamed.
A. Fire.

Q. There is no market in which the dove with the prominent breast has not traded.
A. The cowry.

Q. A hen that has many chickens.
A. The Milky Way.

Q. I am long and slim, I am engaged in commerce, and yet I never reach the market.
A. The canoe (which carries the goods but stops at the landing-place).

This article is borrowed from https://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yor/yor11.htm


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